This wretched referendum is nearly over – the hard part comes next

EU referendum polling cardPlease note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.

As I blogged my thoughts at the start of this referendum, I thought I had better do so at the end too.  The campaign that has unfolded since is nearly over – but a far tougher test is on the way.

For my part, for all the sound and fury, the scare tactics, the endorsements, editorials, speeches and TV specials, my view remains unchanged – I’ll be voting Leave on Thursday, despite this interminable campaign, and not because of it.

No-one has covered themselves in glory.

Not the Government, using taxpayers’ money to beat the public into submission with increasingly insulting predictions of what life would be like outside the EU.  Not the Opposition, led by a man who is so plainly saying and doing the precise opposite of what he really believes.  Not some on the Remain side, who have shown a startling ability to reach new levels of out-of-touch-ness.  Not those elsewhere on the Leave spectrum (the strange bedfellows I wrote about previously) whose campaign tactics have ranged from the despicable to the inept to the downright ludicrous.  And not the media, elements of which have shamed themselves in the last fortnight in particular.

I won’t be alone in admitting it has been a dispiriting few months on a personal level, too.  I’ve been involved in politics for 12 years and this is my 30th campaign.  I have never known an election so vitriolic, so divisive on both sides, and so simply unpleasant to be a part of.

All elections bring their personal highs and lows – but I’ve never known the highs to be so few, and the lows to be so low.  Friends for Remain tell me they feel the same way.

For me, I think of the time the (non-political) group of people I was with broke into spontaneous (and vicious) mockery of Brexit supporters, casually dismissing a view shared by half the country, without even considering that some in their company may dare to hold an opinion different to theirs.  The time – and the only time – I and a close member of my family had to agree not to discuss a political subject for fear we might genuinely fall out.  The time a keyboard-warrior Labour opponent in Greenwich tried to score a cheap political point in the wake of the tragedy of Jo Cox’s murder.

This experience of the referendum is not unique to me, nor is it unique to my point of view – friends for Remain have had the same reflections.  I spent a few days in Aberdeen last year, and made a point of asking everyone I met what effect Scotland’s referendum had had.  Whether for Yes or No, the stories were the same – split families, damaged friendships, bitterness, mistrust and anger.  It’s beginning to sound familiar.

And yet this is a referendum that I and every other member of the Conservative Party campaigned for at the General Election – to let the people decide and to settle the EU question once and for all.  I still think it was the right thing to do.  At least this decision, so fundamental to our future, is in the hands of the people.

Through this wretched campaign, though, I think we have let them down badly.  Whichever the result, our country and its politics will be worse off for the way this referendum has been fought on both sides.

Now for the hard part

So as we digest the result over breakfast on Friday, the first thought of every politician at every level – from the Cabinet to the council chamber – needs to be what they can do to help put this country back together.  That means healing wounds that won’t want to heal, rediscovering those things that unite rather than divide, and moving on with the job of ensuring that whether In or Out, the UK is as safe, prosperous and free as we can make it.

In the meantime, the referendum feels tantalisingly close and there’s all to play for.  I’ll be delivering my final leaflets, getting out the vote on referendum day, and running my local count operation for Vote Leave – to help bring about the result that I firmly believe is in the UK’s best interests.  Many friends and colleagues will be doing likewise for Remain.  I suspect all of us will be glad when this final week of campaigning is over.

Whichever way this country – that we all love – then votes, it’s putting it back together that is going to be the hard part.

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